In the battle of teen social media heavyweights, Snapchat vs. Instagram, which poses greater risks to kids?
According to a Common Sense Media survey in 2015, teens spend an average of 1 hour 11 minutes on social media every day, like Snapchat, Instagram, Musical.ly and others. This is how they relate and interact. Just this week, I was relating to a co-worker that the days of going to the mall to hang out seem to be giving way to other types of social interaction, thanks to technology.
For the first time in three years, there is a new king of the teen social media world. In the spring 2016 edition of the annual Piper Jaffray social media survey, 6,500 teens ages 14-19 were asked to name the “most important social network.” 28% of them said Snapchat and 27% said Instagram (Twitter and Facebook were third and fourth with 18% and 17%, respectively).
The one percent different might seem insignificant, but it represents a massive shift in perception. Just last fall, Instagram was first with 33%, with Snapchat a distant second with 19% (again, followed by Twitter and Facebook).
For years, Snapchat struggled under the negative label of being that “sexting app,” only used by “bad kids” for sending nudes. Compare that to where they are today, firmly established as a top-tier media platform, valued at over $16 billion with over 100 million users. The app’s 8 billion daily video views put it on par with King Facebook. According to Snapchat’s own data, on any given day, Snapchat reaches 41% of all American 18-34-year-olds in a single day. Stop and read that again, because it’s a staggering figure.
But, Instagram is far from dead. With a dazzling array of beautiful picture filters that can turn any amateur into an expert photographer, Instagram boasts over 400 million users with over 75% of its user base living outside of the U.S., Instagram is a key strategic cog in the Facebook social media empire, so it has the funding and global reach to compete with anyone.
But, which app is best for kids? Let’s compare.
Which app provides the easiest access to pornographic material?
Because Instagram’s 400 million users share over 70 million photos daily, Instagram could easily be classified as an unfiltered internet search engine. Do you want to find a picture of #cutecamels? Hey, I just found 121 pictures with that hashtag from all over the world. But, these same snappy hashtags also serve as a sorting mechanism for photos, making it very easy to find just about anything. If you know where to look, it is not difficult to find straight-up sex in a 15-second looping video. And, since there are no parental controls, and search history is easily erased in the settings, the risk of inappropriate use is high for certain types of kids.
BUT, Snapchat is adding more and more pop culture fodder through its “Discover” section. Here you can click on articles from People Magazine, the Daily Mail (British), Food Network, and others. It’s only a matter of time until Snapchat adds a search engine feature, like Google, within the app. Search engine functionality would significantly increase the app’s risk. For now, Instagram wins this category.
Which app has the greatest negative Impact on self-esteem?
Here’s what I wrote in a recent blog post for Protect Young Minds:
“Anyone can create a gorgeous image with the “X-Pro” filter and a bit of hue. But, for young teenage girls, the pressure to produce the perfect selfie, complete with skinny arm and up/off to the right (for the perfect angle)….that’s the goal. Such a photo maximizes likes (because I’m constantly comparing my likes to everyone else) and revs my popularity engine in front of my peers. But, it creates a damaging exchange. With each photo, I’m exchanging real beauty for manufactured beauty. And, I’ve attached my heart and overall self-worth to the hearts I do (or don’t) receive from my followers.”
Popularity was an issue when I was a kid, but it was somewhat subjective. Today, things are different. In the words of pastor and author, Craig Groeschel, “Now empirical data can tell you with absolute precision where you rank: ‘Let’s see…If I have seventy-three followers, and my BFF has 423, that means she’s almost six times more popular than I am.’”
There are pages of rules for taking selfies. Go ahead. Google it! The pressures felt by some kids to be perfect and to achieve a certain level of quantified popularity within a social network is having a tremendous impact on the overall contentment of tweens and teens. They are seeing the lives of their peers in real-time, constantly comparing, and constantly longing for the greener grass. And, what they discover is that no matter how amazing and satisfying their own life might be, it can’t compare to what others appear to have.
Pastor Andy Stanley says, “There is no win in comparisons.”
Instagram is a comparison monster, taking no prisoners.
Which app creates the greatest temptation to be stupid?
Snapchat might have shaken the “sexting app” label, but the premise that pictures disappear is automatically going to increase a teen’s risk tolerance and cause them to take riskier photos (even though Snapchat has admitted the pictures don’t really disappear). Certain kids will have a blast with the app, because honestly, it’s a ton of fun. But, other kids will find it way too easy to send inappropriate photos, risking their future. Remember, when minors take nude photos of themselves, it’s typically considered child pornography by the legal system.
**July 6, 2016 update – with the most recent feature update, the “risk of stupid” has increased pretty dramatically for Snapchat. Snaps no longer disappear (“Memories”) and the addition of a passcode protected private photo vault is concerning. Read more here!
Instagram isn’t perfect here. There isn’t a way for parents to know if their son or daughter has created a fake account for inappropriate photos or for masking bullying activity. Fake Instagram accounts are called “Finstas” and are quite common. Not all Finstas are nefarious – some kids use them to hold more personal pictures or more embarrassing shots they only share with a certain core group of friends.
Which app is harder for parents to monitor?
This one was really a toss-up. Neither app has parental controls, and none of the parental controls on iOS or Android devices have any impact on Instagram or Snapchat, as I explain in our “App Risk” pages.
Now that snaps are kept in “Memories,” maybe there’s a house rule that no snaps are deleted. It’s impossible to know if the rules are being adhered to, but it’s a start.
With Instagram, although kids can easily clear their search history, at least the search history can be captured. Maybe the house rule is that search history isn’t deleted.
With both apps, the real “parental control” happens through open, honest conversation. Imagine the power of a conversation like this between a dad and his son, “The truth is, you could hide a search for inappropriate things, and I would never know. But, I love you a ton, and I know that looking at those pictures can really mess with the way God has wired us as men. I want you to know that you can be honest if you ever bump into these kinds of things. It’s every guy’s battle, and I’m in this with you.” This creates an open dialogue, and everything that we keep in the light is easier to deal with.
I started by asking a question, “which app is best for kids?”
My answer? Well, it depends.
Kids who have a history of stumbling into pornography will struggle with staying pure on Instagram. On the other hand, a kid who might be in a risky relationship might struggle to stay pure on Snapchat.
My daughter won’t have either of them until she’s at least 13. This decision is based on what we know about our daughter and the risk attached to each app.
It comes down to knowing your kid, knowing each app’s risks, and then making an informed, loving decision. Protect Young Eyes was created to equip parents and their kids with the right information. Do you feel informed? If so, let me know with a comment below!
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I love life. Seriously! Each. Day. A. Gift. Former CPA, business advisor, youth pastor, development director, porn survivor. Current marketing manager for Covenant Eyes and CEO of PYE. God shares wild ideas with me about life while I run. I love guiding parents to teach their kids how to use technology well while protecting them from the bad stuff.